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This month I’ll continue with two variations covered last month. First, in the Tarrasch Variation with 3 Nd2 c5, I’ll examine the main line with 4 exd5 Qxd5.
Then I’ll fill in my coverage of the Armenian Variation of the Winawer Variation: 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 e5 c5 5 a3 Ba5. Before we looked at lines with Qg4 for White. This time we deal with the positional 6 b4 cxd4 7 Nb5.

Download PGN of February ’18 French games

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Tarrasch Variation with 3...c5 4 exd5 Qxd5 5 Ngf3 cxd4 6 Bc4 Qd7 [C07]

After 3...c5 4 exd5 Qxd5 5 Ngf3 cxd4 6 Bc4, 6...Qd7 is being played with increasing frequency. The idea is that Black can play without ...Nf6 for a while, since he needn’t fear Ne4.

7 0-0 Nc6 8 Nb3 is normal, but White can also try to gain time with the immediate 7 Nb3 Nc6 8 Nbxd4 Nxd4 9 Nxd4. In Adams, M - Suarez Gomez, J, Gibraltar 2018, White answered the standard 9...a6 with 10 Bf4. It's a bit surprising that this move, which aims to exploit the difference between 6...Qd7 and 6...Qd6, hasn't been played more often. Black can achieve an equal position with care, but in the game neglected to develop and lost material.

The main line is 7 0-0 Nc6 8 Nb3 a6 9 Nbxd4 Nxd4 10 Nxd4 Qc7. In Beydullayeva, G - Gadimbayli, A, Baku 2018, White chose 11 Qe2 and Black replied 11...Ne7:

Here's the difference between 6...Qd6 and 6...Qd7. Since Black didn't need ...Nf6 to defend against Ne4, it’s possible to either delay that move in favour of ...b5, for example; or, as in this case, to bring the knight to e7. The play was equal.

Tarrasch Variation 4...c5 Qxd5 Mainline with 10...a6 [C07]

In the main line with 6...Qd6 7 0-0 Nf6 8 Nb3 Nc6 9 Nbxd4 Nxd4 10 Nxd4 a6, 11 Bb3 Qc7 12 Qf3 Bd6 often leads to this position:

Black normally plays 15...h6, but the game Nakamura, H - Antipov, M, Gibraltar 2018, shows that 15...Bd7 is also fine, with the idea of ...0-0 followed by ..Bxd4 and ...Bc6, one of the original ways that Black used to develop in the 4...Qxd5 variations.

This same theme arose in the line 11 Re1 Qc7 12 Qe2, leading to this position:

Wiersma, E - Werle, J, Dutch League 2017-18 saw 13...Bxd4!? 14 cxd4 b5 15 Bb3 Bb7, but Black is slightly underdeveloped and White could have kept an edge. The game’s 16 Bxe6!?, however, merely led to a forced draw.

Winawer Armenian Variation 5 a3 Ba5 6 b4 cxd4 7 Nb5 Bc7 8 Nf3 [C18]

As promised last month, I want to look at the Armenian Variation with 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 e5 c5 5 a3 Ba5 6 b4 cxd4 7 Nb5 (we examined 7 Qg4 last month). Black plays 7...Bc7 to cover d6, and White normally plays 8 f4. Before we get to that, the other natural move 8 Nf3 is seen less often but still very important:

There’s not a great deal of theory about this position, so in Bodnaru, A - Lei Tingjie, Riyadh 2017 (a well-played Blitz game), I’ve tried to do a thorough job of describing the alternatives along the way. A variety of interesting positions can arise with chances for both sides.

Winawer Armenian Variation 5 a3 Ba5 6 b4 cxd4 7 Nb5 Bc7 8 f4 [C18]

After 8 f4, Black’s standard recipe is 8...Bd7, employed back in 1947 by Tigran Petrosian, but brought into its own by a later Armenian generation of 5..Ba5 players in the 1980s.

Black's idea is to play ...Bxb5 and trade a bad piece for a good one. The game Nepomniachtchi, I - Wang Hao, Riyadh 2017 (also from the World Blitz tournament in late December) illustrates another idea: after White captured on c7 by 9 Nxc7 Qxc7 10 Nf3 Ne7 11 Bb2, he playing 11...Ba4 and later arranged to trade off the bad bishop with ...Bb5.

In Stankovic, Milo - Huerga Leache, M, Elgoibar 2017 (these 7 Nb5 games are from the very end of last year, since they’re the best recent examples), and Black played the immediate 10...Ba4. The game resembled Nepomniachtchi’s except that Black delayed ...Ne7 with 11 Bb2 Nc6:

Finally, to illustrate the ‘safe’ move 9 Nxd4 (after 8 f4 Bd7), I’ve chosen a game from early last year, Landa, K - Ris, R, Reykjavik 2017. The actual order in the game was 9 Nf3 Ne7 10 Nbxd4, but that allows 9...Bxb5! With equality. So the interesting line is 9 Nxd4 Nc6 10 Ngf3, when I give considerable analysis in a note to show that 10...Nxd4 is both sound and promising:

However, the game is also very interesting, reaching a frequently-played position. White eventually prevails, but I suggest a couple of early improvements which seem to at least equalize.

Till next month, John

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